In what looks like a negotiation rather than an unconditional promise, Russian President Vladimir Putin has toyed with the idea of reopening the port of Odessa for grain exports – while calling again for the lifting of Western sanctions against Russia.
Putin made the remarks during a call on Saturday with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, as concerns grew over a looming food crisis due to the inability to export Ukrainian grain to the middle of the conflict.
The Franco-German push to reopen Odessa comes weeks after the EU’s agriculture commissioner offered ‘alternative routes’ to ship grain through Poland’s Baltic Sea ports and poured cold water on the idea of setting up humanitarian corridors to export food from the Black Sea.
Macron and Scholz “emphasized to President Vladimir Putin the urgency of lifting the blockade of Odessa in order to allow the export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea and to avoid a global food crisis”, according to a press release published by the Elysee in Paris. “They took note of the Russian President’s promise to grant ships access to the port for the export of grain without it being exploited militarily by Russia if it were cleared of mines first,” added the French government.
In the Kremlin statement regarding the call, Putin told the duo that “Russia stands ready to help find options for unhindered grain exports, including the export of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports. “. But he added: “Putin explained the real reasons for the food supply difficulties, which resulted from the wrong economic and financial policies of Western countries, as well as from the anti-Russian sanctions imposed by them.”
“Increasing the supply of Russian fertilizers and agricultural products will also reduce tensions in the global food market, which, of course, will require the lifting of relevant sanctions,” the Kremlin noted.
There is no mention of mine clearance in the Russian statement, unlike the French statement.
Separately, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said after a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that “we are working intensively to find ways to resume grain exports and avert a global food crisis.”
Zelenskyy said he asked Johnson for defense support and fuel, adding, “We need to work together to prevent a food crisis and unblock ports.”
Before the war, Ukraine could export about 5 million tons of grain and up to 700,000 tons of sunflower oil per month via the Black Sea. In April, Ukraine managed to export less than one million tons of grain.